Stratosphere Leap: Break the Record
A space suit is not for Felix Baumgartner. He prefers free, unrestrained movements when his arms and legs are spread open easily and the flight suit splashes in the wind of Taipei, Rio de Janeiro or Warsaw. Now he walks awkwardly in a small room, without bending his legs, like a child who was pulled on a too warm winter overalls. The blue light flashes and the buzzer sounds. In a vertical wind tunnel, the wind rushes to Baumgartner at a speed of about 200 km / h, lifting his body above the floor. And now he is already hanging horizontally in a pressure suit, inflated like a balloon. Then a short period of oscillation, when his body, as it were, bounces in place. “It seems to blow a little through the chest closure, ” states Dan Murray, Baumgartner’s doctor, who is watching through the Plexiglass window. But the situation is stabilizing. Baumgartner soars, bending over and resting his chest on an air pillar. "Fine! He did it! ”Says Murray.
At the age of forty, Baumgartner, a professional skydiver and base jumper, managed to set many world records. This is a jump from a building from the highest altitude, a jump from the lowest altitude, he was the first to jump in France from the Millau Viaduct (altitude 340 m) and from an airplane from an altitude of 11 km above the English city of Dover, hoping to overcome the English Channel in free fall using carbon fiber wing. The space suit is essential for the upcoming, extremely daring leap, which can give an answer to the question of the limits of human capabilities that has been hanging in the air for the past half century (and discussed including on the pages of the PM). This will be the fastest and longest long jump from the upper layers of the stratosphere.
The current record (31 km) was set by US Air Force test pilot Joe Kittinger 50 years ago. By the end of this year, Baumgartner, with the support of Red Bull and using the advice of Kittinger himself, plans to exceed this figure. It will rise to 40 km on a high-altitude balloon with an airtight gondola and, stepping into space, will rush to the ground at supersonic speed, and as an aircraft it will only have a spacesuit.
Nobody has done this yet. That's why Baumgartner is training so hard. Today's tests should show whether it is possible to fall correctly in a spacesuit pumped up to an overpressure of 0.25 atm. Members of the Red Bull Stratos team, experienced specialists in the fields of aerospace engineering, aviation medicine, electronics and skydiving, gathered at the California base in Perris around Baumgartner.
But breaking Kittinger's record is not an easy task. “Life support equipment and communications systems have since become much better, ” Kittinger says, “but the number of dangers has not decreased.”
Over the past 50 years, many have tried to break Kittinger's record. And this year, more than one Baumgartner swung at such a jump. Michel Fournier, a paratrooper and retired colonel of the French army, has his views on the stratosphere. This will be his fourth attempt to rise in a balloon to an altitude of 40 km, and if he succeeds in successfully jumping from it, the dream he cherished for 22 years will come true. As long as the Red Bull Stratos team is systematically working out its test program in accordance with all the rules of science, Fournier has already composed two teams - French and American - that will support him at the launch site in Western Canada. He is determined to go around Baumgartner in the sky and in the chronicles of the development of the stratosphere.
August 16, 1960 - Excelsior III, for Joe Kittinger it was just the 33rd parachute jump. He was wearing a pressure suit, only partially compensating for the pressure drop - such was done for pilots who made high-altitude flights. No one has heard of the Mercury project, nor of human spaceflight at all. He climbed in an open gondola at a speed of 360 m / min. Ambient temperature dropped to -70 ° C. To compensate for the decreasing atmospheric pressure, the suit began to be inflated. Kittinger discovered the depressurization of his right glove, but did not report anything to the ground control center.
And then the maximum height is reached. Kittinger drifts for another 11 minutes toward a predetermined square. He looks up, admiring the "indescribably deep, dark blue." The swollen arm became already twice as thick, movements restricted 70 kg of equipment. Kittinger methodically worked out all 46 points from the pre-launch checklist, pressed the button that started the movie cameras, and stepped through the threshold. “Turning my back down, I saw my gondola and the ball rush up at a frantic speed, ” he says. “Then I realized that the ball was standing still, and I rushed down.” He quickly reached a speed of 980 km / h, barely reaching the speed of sound.
Kittinger already knew what dangers might await him. During one of the previous jumps (23.3 km high), the exhaust parachute flew out just 2.5 seconds after he left the gondola. He was followed by an auxiliary brake parachute, but the low air density did not allow him to really crack down and he whipped around Kittinger's neck. It began to spin in a flat corkscrew, due to centrifugal force, blood rushed to the brain, and Kittinger lost consciousness. At an altitude of 5400 m, the barometric sensor tripped and automatically released the main parachute, but as the paratrooper continued to tumble, the main parachute was intertwined with the braking one. At an altitude of 3300 m, a reserve parachute was launched, and only 2 km above the ground he finally freed himself from the crumpled main and completely deployed.
By August, all mechanisms were finalized and worked flawlessly. In free fall, Kittinger spent 4 minutes 36 seconds, carefully monitoring all the ups and downs of the flight. The braking parachute that Kittinger used to stabilize his fall and the automatic launching device for the reserve parachute have now become standard equipment for high-altitude pilots and high-altitude paratroopers. On the basis of his pressure suit, spacesuits for crews of space shuttles were developed.
History has shown that at high altitudes death can come in a variety of guises. In 1962, the Soviet paratrooper Pyotr Dolgov jumped from the Volga balloon at an altitude of 28, 700 meters. A glass visor cracked in his face mask, his pressure suit dropped, and he died from hypoxia. In May 1966, a gondola with an American skydiver Nick Piantanida climbed to an altitude of 17.5 km, and here he either accidentally or intentionally raised his helmet visor. Assistants managed to return the stratospheric balloon to the ground, but the paratrooper was in a coma and died a few months later.
If luck visits Baumgartner or Fournier, their equipment and techniques will certainly become interesting for NASA, for military programs for suborbital space flights, and most importantly, for the booming industry of private space enterprises. Several companies compete with each other, developing new technology that is able to regularly deliver an idle audience to low Earth orbits. “However, none of them plans to go beyond the 'space picnic' when they put a customer in a regular flight suit into a spacecraft and are ready to drop it into orbit, ” says Art Thompson, technical director of the Red Bull Stratos team. - But we are already trying on the next step. What will happen to this client if he decides to go outside? ”
The 66-year-old Michel Fournier's gondola looks like a relic from a long-forgotten space program. Outside, it is wrapped in silver thermal insulation, resembles an electric water heater in shape, and does not exceed it much in size. Inside, there is barely enough room for a seat and control and monitoring devices. A slogan in English and French is pasted on top: “Dare, and you will win!” And Fournier himself can rightfully be called a relic of a bygone era. He participated in a series of long jumps, which the French Ministry of Defense organized to prepare equipment for the launch of the first European space shuttle. Jumping ceased in the late 1980s, but Fournier never forgot the ambition behind this project.
The middle of May. A gondola stands in a small metal hangar at a tiny airfield in North Battleford (Saskatchewan). Power tools, spare parts, an old helmet from a space suit are laid out on long tables made of sheets of chipboard, and a cardboard box with a snack and a bottle of merlot is standing next to it. The North American half of the support group installs a helium pump on the neck of a thin-walled plastic balloon.
Fournier's previous attempts were frustrated due to problems with this balloon. The first took place in 2002, and then the weather prevented. A gust of wind tore off the hose through which the balloon was pumped. The next year, the balloon itself burst. In 2008, a cylinder, made of light fabric, finally soared into the sky, but ... the gondola remained on the ground: the mechanism detaching it from the balloon worked prematurely.
Craig Ryan was present at the first attempt and states that the Fournier team is not like a well-functioning mechanism. “There's no reckless courage in such a thing, ” he says. Such an enterprise requires a lot of money, advanced technology and an experienced team to succeed.
A forklift truck takes out a huge plywood box onto the field, in which a stratostat is packed for a volume of about 216, 000 m³. At a distance, the Fournier gondola is visible in a cone of light. At 5:30, a group of local observers pulls together to a chain-link fence and looks through binoculars for a stratospheric balloon stretched 150 m along the runway. Fournier in a bright yellow spacesuit sits in the opening of the hatch of his gondola and inhales pure oxygen, enriching his blood in advance.
Another two hours pass, but no one begins to pump the ball. A rumor is circulating that some kind of malfunction in the spacesuit was the cause of the delay. Finally, the ball begins to gradually inflate and floats above the ground. But then the rhythmic clatter of the compressor subsides, and the cellphone rings at the public relations agent. “Damn it!” She screams into the phone. Then he explains that during the test crimping the reserve parachute worked right in the gondola. All. Enough for this day!
The next morning, Fournier leaves his room in the hotel hall, where his countrymen gathered again. He holds on cheerfully, as if everything is going according to plan. When asked if there will be a new attempt, he smiles broadly: “Of course, only we will wait five days of non-flying weather!” After a few days, all his equipment disappears from the hangar, but he assures people in North Battleford that he will be back soon. "Hold this hangar for August."
Felix Baumgartner’s gondola was built in the private workshops of Sage Cheshire Aerospace in Lancaster, California, and it looks not so much like a relic from the era of the first space programs, but like a clean scale model that copied that ancient technique for a stand in some modern museum. The graceful silver shell has a bell-shaped shape - just like Gemini's. A round acrylic hatch with a diameter of 120 cm and a thickness of about 12 mm smoothly slides to the side along the inner rails.
Inside this fiberglass shell, everything is arranged as in a real spaceship. “When you climb to a height of 40 km, the ambient gas pressure is only 0.2% of normal atmospheric pressure, ” says Art Thompson, one of the co-founders of Sage Cheshire, “so there’s practically no difference whether you climbed to a height of 40 km or strolling along the surface of the moon. " The hermetic sphere made of fiberglass with epoxy, protected by a chromium-molybdenum steel grid, contains inside the entire instrument part of the aircraft, including manual control for numerous life support systems.
“Up this device rises suspended under a balloon, and down it hangs under a parachute, and during the rise it maintains almost atmospheric pressure, but during the descent a vacuum walks inside, ” says Michael McDowell, an engineer working on the electrical part and testing the capsule . “He will get something that an ordinary aircraft has not seen.” He will visit both in the cold and in vacuum, and at the end of his journey he will not land on wheels at all. ”
The capsule with all its filling - and devices, and man - will weigh about 1100 kg. For comparison: the Fournier gondola weighs about half a ton, and with Kittinger it weighed only 414 kg. “This is a crucial point, since every extra kilogram reduces the height that a balloon can drag this gondola to, ” says Bill Dodson, chief engineer who led the capsule. To climb a record 40 km, the Baumgartner balloon must have a volume of 810, 000 m3 - three times more than Fournier, and ten times more than Kittinger. It will rise at a speed of about 300 m / min until it reaches a height where it swells up to a diameter of about 120 m. This is where Baumgartner is and steps over the threshold of his gondola.
The development of this project has been going on for almost three years, and less than six months are left before the decisive jump. Everyone knows that Fournier would like to make his attempt at least a week earlier. «Нельзя вести программу научных испытаний, подстраиваясь при этом к чужому графику, — говорит Томпсон.- Поддавшись на эту провокацию, мы совершим серьезную ошибку. Если Фурнье решил прыгать, пусть себе прыгает. В любом случае нельзя терять рассудок».
А пока Баумгартнер упражняется, снова и снова совершая этот самый важный первый шаг. «Мне нужно вооружиться всеми знаниями мира, — говорит он, — поскольку все равно в конце концов мы останемся с одним весомым неизвестным, с вопросом, что может произойти с человеческим телом, когда достигаешь скорости звука».
Команда Баумгартнера хочет доказать, что человек способен вернуться из стратосферы на землю, пройдя от режима дозвукового полета через режим околозвукового к полету сверхзвуковому, а потом произвести все эти переходы в обратном порядке.
Баумгартнер стоит в корзине монтажника, кран медленно поднимает его над землей. Снизу он выглядит белой кляксой на тусклом красном фоне стальных ферм. В углу парковки расставлены складные кресла, и там сидят Джо Киттингер и Эйнар Эневолдсон, консультант команды по вопросам высотных исследований. Оба смотрят на Баумгартнера, надвинув шляпы на лоб. Эневолдсон летал на аппаратах 300 конструкций и установил восемь мировых рекордов (пять из них пока еще никем не побиты). Кожа обоих испещрена старческими пятнами, а в лицах — достоинство уже свершенной карьеры, однако и сейчас они чувствуют себя действующими пилотами-испытателями.
На вопрос, много ли он раздумывал, прежде чем совершить вот такой же первый шаг, Киттингер отвечает прямо: «Я размышлял полтора года. Тысячи раз я производил этот трюк в уме и 30 раз — в барокамере. Мне не хотелось прыгать за борт очертя голову — нужен был короткий и аккуратный прыжок. Теперь такой же фокус должен проделать и Феликс».
Баумгартнер подходит к краю корзины. И вот — короткий прыжок. Он падает, как при замедленной съемке, — крошечная белая фигурка, похожая на игрушечного парашютиста. «Прекрасно», — говорит Эневолдсон. «А мне кажется, что он улетел на пару метров дальше, чем надо», — отвечает Киттингер. Баумгартнер несколько раз подпрыгивает на резиновом тросе, и кран медленно спускает его на землю. Он готов сразу же подняться и повторить прыжок. Через несколько месяцев ему будет предложена единственная возможность сделать этот прыжок в стратосфере, единственный шанс на побитие рекорда. Зато сегодня можно повторять попытки, пока не надоест.The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 9, September 2010). I wonder how a nuclear reactor works and can robots build a house?
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